I guess navigating challenges in the dark ups the ante when it comes to the retelling.
Rachel had fenced off the gully last year. No cattle were supposed to have access. But that didn’t stop a handful of renegade calves from breaching security when they spied a tree on the fence during their morning rounds.
Without a clear picture of exactly what caused one, 400-pound heifer to fall downhill into the gully at just the right angle to break her left hip and not the other perpetrators, we’ll never know.
Her temperamental mother had abandoned her without a distress call when Rachel counted them that morning. Rachel noticed a few calves were missing, figured that were just off playing and planned to return late afternoon to try another count.
When she discovered that only one calf was missing later in the day, panic set in. She discovered the missing heifer right after sundown, sitting upright but helpless in the sandy gravel and gully water.
Rachel and Brant (who joined after he returned from work) assessed the situation and determined that the heifer was both too injured to navigate the slick, clay hill by herself and too large to move without backup. They returned to the house to regroup and gather rescue gear. Brant had a plan. All we needed to make this a successful rescue was a four-wheel drive truck, an ATV, ropes, tie-down straps, a small utility trailer and his cousin, “Dude.” (His given name is Raymond Matthew McIntosh but “Dude” fits him much better).
Naturally, one of the tires on the utility trailer was flat (when are they not?). After almost setting himself on fire simultaneously smoking a cigarette and using starting fluid to seal the rubber to the rim (spilling most of the gasoline on the ground while refueling the ATV), Dude had the units ready for action. Every rope and tie down on the place was loaded, along with dirty blankets and other assorted items (like something to cover the heifer’s soon-to-be-traumatized head with). And plenty of charged headlamps. We knew this might take a while.
We arrived at the scene and let the new fence down at the most logical place to access the gully from the pasture. We determined the most direct path down and cut any hanging bits of rusted fence wire to prevent another incident from occurring. Brant and Dude then tied off the utility trailer with ropes and slowly lowered the unit down into the gully over stumps and mounds of earth, until finally it rested parallel to the steep eroded clay wall, tires stuck firmly in the water. That was the easy part.
The next order of business was to somehow convince the injured, wet, sandy heifer to fall sideways onto the trailer so we could strap her down safely. Meanwhile, Dude seemed to be overly concerned about the danger that every pointed part of the trailer posed for the heifer’s personal safety and wouldn’t move forward until we padded all sharp objects. Once he was satisfied, he and Brant miraculously man-handled the heifer to a horizontal position, and the traumatized bovine was then ratcheted to the trailer with tie straps.
The original plan for ascent from the gully was subject to revision once we realized that the bumpy descent path with an unloaded trailer was not conducive to the same path for ascent when loaded with a 400-pound bovine. We explored the other bank. It was a winding path with a series of eroded platforms through a wooded hillside that would take longer to navigate, but it was possible. Because of the presence of large trees, this would need to take place in three steps. Step one: pull the trailer and calf out of the creek and up the bank to the first platform. Step two: turn trailer and calf 90 degrees to pull the unit up to the second platform. Step three: reposition the trailer and calf another 90 degrees to face the final uphill pull to safety.
The men moved the vehicles while my pregnant sister and I stayed with the calf and lamented the situation (we had little hope this poor heifer would successfully heal, even if we could pull her out without her suffering cardiac arrest). We covered her face with a blanket and prayed. After the men returned, we looped the ropes around the biggest tree directly uphill from the first platform to get the most leverage for the first heavy pull out of the water.
Brant tried pulling with the ATV, but it was not beefy enough to dislodge the trailer and heifer, even after Dude successfully repositioned the unit to face the best direction for moving uphill. Dude then offered up his truck and switched with Brant. The extra horsepower was exactly what we needed to tow the trailer out of the slickest, steepest part of the gully. In fact, despite cell communication, Dude overshot the target platform quite a bit, and Brant had to physically back up the whole operation to get a good angle from which to move for the second pull.
Ropes were retied to a different tree, and the next charge uphill was a success. We repeated the procedure for the third leg, careful not to run a vehicle tire off into the gully and were able to switch back to the ATV for towing. We thankfully pulled the whole operation all the way to the barn this time, with Brant riding on the trailer with the calf to make sure she didn’t wiggle out of her tie straps and on to the county road.
We backed the trailer under the barn and released the heifer from her holdfasts. She wobbled around painfully but managed to stand long enough for us to make her a bed and get her food and water. Team Blackjack was elated. There was a hearty mix of prayerful “Thank You, Jesus” exclamations, sheer amazement of what had just happened, and jokes about how sore the guys would be the next day.
The heifer was alive and carefully maneuvering the next morning. Rachel soon trailered her mother over (the traditional way) to stay with her, and the pair continues to make more traction in the trap each day.
There is something to be said for the ingenuity of country boys and their willingness to make a project work in spite of the odds. Here’s to hope, even after sundown.